This presentation was made for the Fourth International Communist Movement Forum, Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, Wuhan, April 29-30, 2017 by Wadi’h Halabi
Economics Commission, Communist Party USA and Center for Marxist Education, Massachusetts, USA
Three Organizational Legacies of
the Great October Socialist Revolution
Will Prepare Humanity’s Completion of its Long March
Donald Trump’s tragi-comic rise can be placed in historical context with guidance from one of the Russian Revolution’s many contributions to humanity: the study of England’s transition from feudalism to capitalism by the Communist Party historian Christopher Hill.
When feudalism’s contradictions deepened in the early 1600s, the monarchy attacked not only peasants, workers and the young bourgeoisie, but its own social base, feudal landlords. The landlords’ rebellion, Hill demonstrated, opened the path for Cromwell, the New Model Army – and revolution.
Capitalism’s third great wave of general crisis – which began unfolding in the mid-1970s -- finally hit the USA in 2007-8. To save itself, the US ruling class has been attacking not only workers and oppressed, but its own social base, lesser exploiters. Bankruptcies soon tripled among smaller US businesses. The income of the top 1% fell 19% between 2007 and 2014; that of the 0.01% fell 27%. Monopolization of capital in the US is so great that all but a tiny minority of the top 1% are lesser exploiters, not the real ruling class. (On the other hand, some of the smallest exploiters in the US are so poor that their incomes place them in the bottom 5%.)
Since 2008, lesser exploiters have gone into understandable, open rebellion – and produced Donald Trump! (Trump himself has suffered multiple bankruptcies.) One result of the rebellion is that -- the US ruling class is greatly weakened.
With preparation and international working-class unity led by the CPs, it is possible that the still-unfolding crisis in the US can open the path for all of humanity to finally complete the long march out of capitalist slavery, misery and wars. The opening is not limited to the US.
Why? Because the US ruling class and its state has effectively been the “organizing center” of the world capitalist order for a century. As the Communist International explained, World War I “put Europe on rations.” The rebellion of lesser exploiters can open the path for outcomes like in England in the 1600s, Russia in 1917 or China in 1949. Workers and oppressed will make huge sacrifices if they clearly understand this, and can themselves teach and shape humanity’s ‘long march’.
On the other hand, left to itself, capitalism in crisis will only lead to social, economic and environmental disintegration on a global scale. Capitalism is not simply unwilling to stop environmental and social destruction – it is profoundly, materially incapable of doing so. Such disintegration is already evident in the Congo, Somalia, Mali, parts of Nigeria, the Central African Republic, Sudan, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, the Ukraine, and elsewhere.
THREE ORGANIZATIONAL LEGACIES
OF THE GREAT OCTOBER SOCIALIST REVOLUTION
Organization is not a secondary question for Marxism. “Workers of the world unite” means unite in conscious organization. From their earliest days as communists, Marx and Engels set out to establish international organization of the working class. Lenin subsequently provided immense direction in how such organization should function.
Three organizational legacies of the Great October Socialist Revolution can play a critical role in preparations to complete humanity’s long march to socialism. Two of these are still in existence: the Communist Parties of the world, and unions, in particular the unions and union federations that were created or strengthened by the Communist Parties.
The third legacy is not in existence today but can be re-established on the foundations of the existing legacies. This is the Communist International, whose creation in 1919 Lenin considered as great an accomplishment as the Russian Revolution itself.
Properly organizing the International has proved to be a huge challenge, as the dissolution of the First, Second and Third International has demonstrated. At the same time, the necessity for conscious unity of the workers of the world is undeniable. All the main class forces and all of the major problems that humanity faces are global in nature. So is their solution.
THE COMMUNIST PARTIES ARE HISTORICALLY EXTRAORDINARY
The Great October Socialist Revolution was the greatest step forward in human history, 200,000 years! One reflection of this is that the political parties created by the revolution are unlike any parties in recorded history: the Communist Parties.
In history, for example, “normal” political parties would not recover from a defeat as severe as suffered by the Communist Party of China in 1927: the masses would stop trusting such a party, while surviving leaders would fall into disputes with each other. Furthermore, the Communist International and the Soviet leadership was partially responsible for that defeat, in the form of incorrect advice to place confidence in the Guomintang. (The Comintern retained ‘honorary membership’ for the Guomintang even after its crimes in 1927!)
And yet we know what Party was at the head of the Great Chinese Revolution of 1949! Communist Parties have been at the head of every successful revolution since 1917, from Albania to Vietnam to Yugoslavia. (Unfortunately, our parties have also been at the head of every major defeat! But that also shows the importance of our parties.)
A second example: the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) also suffered a terrible defeat after World War II. Greece should have had a socialist revolution at the time, like neighboring Albania and Yugoslavia. Once again, the Soviet leadership was implicated in the defeat. Once again, “normal” political parties could not recover from such a severe defeat.
There has not yet been a socialist revolution in Greece. But the KKE has partially recovered. It commands support of a significant part of the working class, several of its leaders are in parliament, and one of its leaders is the general secretary of the World Federation of Trade Unions.
A third example is perhaps even more puzzling: Why is the Communist Party in power in Cuba? It was not that party which overthrew Batista -- Cuba’s Chiang Kai-shek -- in 1959, but the nationalist July 26 Movement. Indeed, the Cuban CP had criticized the July 26 Movement a few years earlier as petty bourgeois adventurist. Yet the July 26 Movement no longer exists as an organization, while the (changed) Communist Party has been in leadership since the working class took power in Cuba in the fall of 1960! (This is an important theoretical problem. Clarity on Cuba’s revolution is crucial, for example, to understand why Nicaragua is still capitalist, despite its 1979 revolution’s superficial similarity with the Cuban Revolution.)
For now, the point is that there is something extraordinary about the Communist Parties created by the Great October Socialist Revolution, even after a century, and many errors. In effect, what defines our Parties’ “DNA” is what defined the Russian Revolution: taking the general interests of the international working class to their conclusion, seizure of power wherever possible, with the goal of completing humanity’s transition from capitalism to socialism.
Dogs come in all sizes. Some are as small as rats, some nearly as large as ponies. And yet they “instinctively” recognize that they share crucial DNA, and something productive can come out of their interaction. Communist Parties are not dogs, but we recognize there is something special about our DNA! The Communist Parties are identifiable at the annual International Meetings of Communist and Workers’ Parties (IMCWP), which have brought together over 60 Parties in some years, including both the CPUSA and the CPC. The IMCWP this year will also celebrate the 100th anniversary.
Likewise, the annual World Socialism Forums in Beijing have been bringing together more and more Communist Parties. This year’s Forum will also be celebrating the 100th anniversary. Dozens of Communist Parties will be invited, hopefully most will participate.
UNIONS: A SECOND GREAT LEGACY OF THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION
Unions existed before the Russian Revolution. So we sometimes do not recognize a second great living legacy of that revolution: the many unions and union federations which were created, strengthened or rebuilt by the Communist Parties.
These include the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the largest union federation in the world with over 300 million members; the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), with some 92 million members, including those in the Cuban and Vietnamese union federations. The WFTU’s affiliated unions were often associated with pro-Soviet Communist Parties.
In addition, many unions in capitalist countries not presently affiliated with the WFTU were formed, strengthened or rebuilt by Communist Parties. In the USA, this includes the longshore (dockworkers) unions, especially on the West Coast; the United Steelworkers; the United Auto Workers; UE (electrical workers), and several other unions.
What is the significance of these unions? A potentially-fatal gap has developed between most Communist Parties worldwide and the mass of workers, even in states formed by socialist revolutions. (The Communist Party in Portugal appears to be an important exception.) With CP leadership, these unions and union federations can play an important role in bridging this gap.
The gap developed as a result of many factors: Mistakes by our world movement; social and economic decay in capitalist countries; failures in education in Marxism; the various costs and difficulties of governing and developing the productive forces in states formed by socialist revolutions. Most devastating was the counter-revolution in the Soviet Union and other states.
How to bridge the gap between our Parties and the mass of workers? Our Parties’ role in education in Marxism is essential. We cannot depend on bourgeois academics to provide it. For our Parties’ practice to be fruitful, our members need firm grounding in class analysis of both Party and state. This will help us avoid serious errors, and promptly correct the inevitable errors that do arise. Our members will also understand that workers are the true social base of our Parties, and embed themselves in the working class.
Class understanding and class education will also facilitate Party clarity on the role that unions can play in bridging that potentially-fatal gap, domestically and internationally. Our Parties can then identify necessary tasks that unions can focus on, in coordinated national and international campaigns that unions can join in. Examples include pressing environmental tasks, and creating unionized green jobs to address those tasks. These will have huge support from workers and oppressed.
Tasks of occupational safety and health are another example. Challenging debt slavery to capitalists -- both personal debt and government debt – is an increasingly-crippling problem in capitalist countries, and another example of a necessary task. (We emphasize that funds freed-up from such challenges would be redirected to create good jobs to meet human needs, such as for decent housing, health and recreation.) Class-struggle prisoners face horrendous conditions in capitalist prisons; this is yet another necessary task that many unions US have taken up, although rarely in a coordinated way. Organizing unorganized workers is still another necessary task that is an obvious one for unions. An initial focus could be on one industry worldwide, or one international employer, such as Coca Cola.
It is difficult to exaggerate the potential importance of union federations such as the WFTU, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, and the corresponding federations in Vietnam and Cuba in bridging the gap. Our Parties’ leadership is critical.
THE THIRD ORGANIZATIONAL LEGACY OF THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION
As mentioned earlier, Lenin considered the formation of the Communist International as great an achievement as the Russian Revolution itself. The goal of the International was clear: joining Communist Parties to overthrow capitalist rule and establish working class power worldwide.
As also mentioned earlier, incorrect advice from the Communist International was a factor in the severe defeat suffered by the CPC in 1927, delaying the victory of the Chinese revolution -- and weakening the Soviet Union and the International.
The problem was not uniform. Direction from the Comintern, for example, helped the immature Communist Party USA recognize the importance and implications of the African-American national question. This greatly strengthened the CPUSA in the late 1920s and early 1930s, programmatically, organizationally and in class composition.
Nevertheless, problems in correctly organizing the International were so great that it effectively stopped functioning in the late 1930s. It was formally dissolved in 1943.
The absence of an International has proved costly. To take one example, starting late in 1945, the Soviet leadership signaled support for the formation of the Israeli state, in direct opposition to Lenin and the Communist International, who held a strong stance against the partition of Palestine.
The implication of the Soviet leadership’s decision on Palestine was that Communists would now be supporting taking land from the tiller, i.e. opposing land reform. It was like tearing the sickle from the hammer. Without a functioning International, it was very difficult for Communist Parties worldwide – most of which would have opposed the change in position on Palestine -- to even discuss the implications of this decision. The result has been devastating for the Communist movement not only in the Middle East, but through much of Africa, and beyond.
With the victory of the Chinese revolution, Chairman Mao, like Lenin, committed to working class power worldwide. CPC leaders repeatedly tried to resolve differences with the Soviet leadership and to rebuild unity in the international communist movement. But the CPC’s efforts were rebuffed by CPSU leaders.
In October 2002, at the first World Socialism forum in Beijing, CPC comrade Liu Shuchun pointed out that the first step in Workers of the world unite is Communist Parties of the world unite. A few years later, she added, “consciously”: CPs of the world, unite consciously. Our common “DNA” greatly facilitates such unity. But to be effective in action, Marxist clarity is needed on the most important developments worldwide.
Five such developments stand out. The most significant is the counter-revolution in the Soviet Union and eleven states like it (Albania, Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia, etc.). These are the most serious defeats in working class history. Clarity on these factors is essential for the transition to be completed, just as Marxist clarity on factors in the defeat of the Paris Commune was essential to achieve the victory of the Russian Revolution.
Certainly, one factor in the counter-revolution in the Soviet Union, etc., was that Communist Party leaders in those states became too involved in the tremendous challenges of day-to-day governing. Leaders lost the Leninist commitment to working class power worldwide (which would also have committed them to building international organizational unity).
Leaders of the states that collapsed also became privileged, and consequently stopped speaking the truth fully and promptly; workers stopped believing leaders even when they did speak the truth. Many, many more factors enter the picture, international and domestic, objective and subjective. Marxism provides us the method to achieve the necessary clarity.
The general crisis of capitalism and its many implications is another development that requires Marxist clarity. So is the environmental crisis. So is China’s extraordinary economic development, and CPC leaders’ ever-stronger commitment to Marxism. Finally, we cannot lose sight of the implications of two social systems interacting and conflicting within a single world economy, society and environment.
As mentioned earlier, thanks to the Great October Socialist Revolution, Communist Parties share critical “DNA” and thus the foundation for international unity. Organizational unity does not have to wait for Marxist clarity on the major world developments, but can help advance it.
At the same time, we need to learn from the historical difficulties organizing our Internationals and problems such as those that led to the collapse of the Socialist International in 1914, the defeat in China in 1927, or the error on Palestine. This will help us develop appropriate organizational principles. Among these principles should be relative separation of Parties so that each learns to think, combined with mechanisms to help each other and resolve problems and contradictions between our Parties. This is essential to achieve unity in action.
Another principle should be that of Party criticism/self-criticism, with each Party having a responsibility to identify problems and errors – our own and other Parties -- before problems and errors accumulate, as appears to have happened with the Communist International before it stopped functioning.
Meetings, such as this important forum in Wuhan commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, point the way towards rebuilding international Communist unity. The same is true of the coming World Socialism Forum in September, followed a month later by the International Meeting of Communist and Workers Parties. Both meetings will also commemorate the greatest step forward in human history.
Long live the achievements and legacies of the Russian Revolution!
Long live the Chinese Revolution!
Long live our Communist Parties!
Workers of the world, unite!
Communist Parties of the world, unite, consciously!
Ideas expressed in this paper do not necessarily represent those of the CPUSA. This paper was prepared in an individual capacity for the Fourth International Communist Movement Forum of Central China Normal University, International Symposium on Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, Wuhan, Hubei Province, People’s Republic of China.
Special thanks to my wife and comrade Sandy Rosen, and to other CPUSA comrades and friends, including Donald Donato, Eric Brooks, Gary Hicks, Al Sargis, Dave Campbell of United Steelworkers Local 675, and the late Richard Levins; and to so many CPC comrades in China, including two of my teachers, Jin Huiming, Liu Shuchun, and Nie Yunlin, Yu Weihai, and the many other workers, students, translators and teachers who worked on the Wuhan forum.
Two of Christopher Hill’s works are good starting points for study – “The English Revolution 1640”, and the more comprehensive “The Century of Revolution 1603-1714”.
Business bankruptcies tripled between 2006 and 2009-2010. American Bankruptcy Institute, www.abi.org
Study of changes in US incomes by Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, reported by CNN Money, money.cnn.com/2016/03/18/news/economy/top-1-income/index.html
Some reasons why capitalism is materially incapable of stopping social and environmental destruction are reviewed by this author in “Ten Considerations: The Political Economy of Scientific Development in this Epoch” Economic Study of Shanghai School, Volume 23, 2008 (in Chinese). The paper also explains why the working class is capable of stopping and ultimately reversing this destruction, which threatens human existence.
The International’s goal of working class power worldwide is clearly stated by Lenin. Many of his writings were gathered in the book, On the Unity of the International Communist Movement (the English edition was issued in 1966 by Progress Publishers, Moscow; a second edition came out in 1971). Chairman Mao often stated the same goal. But in the face of resistance from the exploiters, and as the problems of governing mounted, the CPSU leadership abandoned commitment to Lenin’s goal. Soviet leaders failed to organize and publish the proceedings of the Communist International. They still merit worldwide publication.